Selection Monday is when the Women’s NCAA Tournament brackets are unveiled. By the end of the night, all 64 teams will know their path to the Final Four, which will be held in Indianapolis this year. Selection Monday is a lot like Selection Sunday, but devoid of Charles Barkley struggling with the intricacies of a touch screen.
I spent women's college basketball's unofficial holiday with Brenda Frese's Maryland team. Here's what it was like:
The selection show was Monday at 7 p.m. on ESPN, and the Maryland women’s basketball team held a watch party with fans and media in the Xfinity Center’s Heritage Hall. Members of the media were invited to eat dinner with the team beforehand, and like any college student presented with free food, I jumped at the opportunity. It was refreshing to hold normal, humane conversation with head coach Brenda Frese and her family, as well as other media members with whom I’ve been coexisting all year (including my Testudo Times colleague Noah Niederhoffer).
Because the show is on ESPN, every TV in Heritage Hall is tuned to the 6:00 p.m. SportsCenter, which appeared to be a Steph Curry birthday celebration with some miscellaneous sports discussion sprinkled in. At one point, NASCAR/IndyCar driver Juan Pablo Montoya made an appearance via satellite for reasons surely known to someone.
But as the selection show nears, fans start to stream in. Let’s just say that if the bracket leaked online, none of these fans would have a clue. But it’s great to have them here, as they’ve shifted the mood in a celebratory direction. Everyone sits down in front of a pair of TVs, with the Terps’ two Big Ten trophies from this season front and center.
6:57: Coach Frese opens the festivities with a toast of sorts (no drinks involved). She thanks the fans for coming out and the team for playing great basketball. She’s flanked by sons Markus and Tyler, who exclaim "go Terps!" on command. And so it begins.
7:00: And here……we……go……
7:01: The Terps are featured for a split second in the introduction montage (it’s a shot of Kiah Gillespie and Brianna Fraser celebrating on the bench), prompting a brief burst of euphoria from the crowd.
7:02: ESPN has cameras in a ton of places, but this isn’t one of them. But hey, at least America gets to see that Notre Dame seems excited about being in the tournament again, and in the end, that’s all that matters.
7:04: Kevin Neghandi starts reading off the No. 1 seeds, prefacing the list with a "let’s not waste any time" that’s totally a dig at CBS. Beautiful. The top seeds are, as expected: UConn, South Carolina, Notre Dame and Baylor. A light groan floats through College Park, although the Terps had as many losses as those four teams combined.
7:06: We’re unveiling Baylor’s region first. The 5-12 matchup is Florida State and Middle Tennessee, which isn’t all that exciting but apparently warrants live shots from both watch parties. Again, ESPN didn’t want to send any cameras here.
7:08: Oregon State is the No. 2 seed in the Dallas region. Not Maryland. This means that, technically, the Beavers are the higher seed. It also means the Terps will have to wait at least 10 more minutes to learn where they stand.
7:10: Now is the time where the analysts give their spin on the region, but unlike CBS on Sunday, it’s pretty short and sweet. I may be sick of only ever hearing Kara Lawson and Rebecca Lobo, but they clearly know what they’re talking about, which is more than I can say about, um, some of the personalities on the CBS show.
7:12: The Terps make another brief appearance in the highlight package entering the break. More applause.
7:16: We’re back from the break, and it’s time for Notre Dame’s region. ESPN cuts to the the South Bend watch party for the third time tonight, which is too many. I’ve said for a while that this was the best matchup for the Terps, so we’ll see if it’s the one they get.
7:18: I just noticed that they’re giving away the higher seeds by showing the location of the other games. For instance, the Oklahoma-Purdue game is slated for Lexington, so it’s obvious that Kentucky will be the next team up.
7:19: So Washington and Pennsylvania will be playing Saturday afternoon in…….College Park. Whispers flutter across the room, and I know Maryland’s next, but not everyone does.
7:20: Now they know. Maryland’s logo comes up as a No. 2 seed, and pandemonium ensues. The Terps will host the Iona Gaels at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. The wait is over.
7:23: I was pretty sure this was the Sioux Falls region, but turns out the committee gave Notre Dame the Lexington draw. It’s definitely a surprise, because South Carolina was a higher overall seed and Lexington is way closer to Columbia. But it’s also closer to South Bend, and apparently the Notre Dame fans matter a lot to the NCAA. They certainly matter to ESPN, which brings Muffet McGraw on the air to talk about how her Fighting Irish play team basketball.
The Lexington draw also means that Maryland could have to play Kentucky in the Sweet 16 on the Wildcats’ home floor. Even though the Terps are a higher seed. This probably isn’t fair, but women’s college basketball isn’t fair (they’ve been calling this the "UConn Invitational" for a while).
7:26: The rest of the draw has been rendered irrelevant. Time for Frese and the
players student-athletes to sit at tables and wait to be bombarded with questions from people like me. Here are some of the fun quotes I got:
Senior forward Tierney Pfirman: "[I’m looking forward to] going and enjoying the journey with the group of girls I’m with, and to continue to produce and show what Maryland women’s basketball’s all about."
Junior center Brionna Jones: "After playing [Notre Dame] last year and seeing what they do, we can learn from our past mistakes and get better."
Sophomore guard Kristen Confroy: "Knowing that we’ve been [to the Final Four] before, we know what it takes, from a daily grind in practice and from a mental aspect and how all those things come together."
Senior guard Chloe Pavlech. "It’s bittersweet. Last selection show, last NCAA Tournament run, last couple games at home, so a bunch of different lasts."
Senior guard Brene Moseley: "[Capping the season off with a championship would mean] everything."
But we’ll close this diary with some thoughts about the night itself. I asked Brenda Frese what it’s like to balance finding out her team’s Tournament schedule with serving as the host for this many media and fans:
"We get up here early to kinda be the ‘hostess with the mostest’ in terms of the entertainment and to thank our fans and our media," she said. "It’s a special night for us to be able to thank all the media that have supported us all season. And then once the show comes on, it’s time to get ready for that next step, which is to get ready to work and prepare."